Led by Mo Brand
Good morning and a warm welcome to Wardie Parish Church. Everyone will notice that we have moved back to the sanctuary as the scaffolding has come down from the window. That also means that church is open again to booking, so we have some people joining us here this morning. If you’re at home but are able and would like to come into the building you’re encouraged to book in too. However, it doesn’t matter where you are, you have set this time aside to listen for God and so may he speak to us all this morning.
Call to Worship
We gather together in the presence of our Shepherd God,
who calls us each by name,
who restores our souls,
who leads us in the way of righteousness,
and whose goodness and love never stops pursuing us.
This is the God we have come to worship!
Hymn – Father I place into your hands
Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd
as a shepherd gathers their flock
so You have gathered us today
drawing us in to the shelter of Your flock
to feed and refresh us.
Some of us come before You rejoicing,
because our path has led us through green pastures
and You have filled our cup of happiness to overflowing.
Some of us come before You battered and bruised by life,
because our path has led us through dark and frightening valleys
and we need to know Your strength restoring our souls.
Some of us, like foolish sheep, come before You ashamed,
because we have wandered astray instead of following You
and now we come to seek for Your forgiveness.
If we have followed the crowd, doing as others did,
forgetting that we are pledged to follow You,
then, Good Shepherd, set us right.
If we have chosen to do what we want
rather than act out of love for others
and have found ourselves in difficulties,
then Good Shepherd set us right.
If we have been so preoccupied with other things
that we have stopped listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd,
then Good Shepherd set us right.
Bring us back from where we have wandered
and set our feet on the path that leads to life.
Speak Your word of pardon, Lord
and remind us that You said:
“I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
May each of us know that we matter to You,
however far away we may have strayed.
May we hear Your voice afresh during our service today
and draw closer to You before we leave.
May we entrust the week ahead to You
and have the courage to follow You day by day.
For we pray this in Your name.
We say together the words Jesus taught his disciples:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
In the Bible and in our Christian lives we often hear references to shepherds and sheep. For me when I think about sheep I’m not drawn to counting them to help me go to sleep, or to thinking of all the phrases about them following or getting lost – later I am probably going to make reference to these things – but for me when I think of sheep I think of wool or felt or fleece.
Now when it gets sheared from a sheep, it’s fleece, and it can be quite dirty and tangled so it needs cleaned and sorted. The fibres are washed, carded and combed to make them all lie in the same direction and that gives us roving.
Roving can be spun on a spinning wheel or spindle to make wool, or it can be felted with special needles which pushes and interlocks the fibres together, creating often more three-dimensional shapes, or it can be felted with water and soap to interlock and compact it together into flat sheets of material.
Now I didn’t expect all of you to follow this very quick craft introduction – when Jesus told his stories he spoke of things that would be familiar for the people around him and these are references that make sense for the more craft-orientated people listening, but however much you understood, this starting product from a sheep can be changed in so many different ways and into so many different things that when you see a sheep you never know what its fleece could go on to become. In short there is so much potential in that fleece but to change it needs lots of time, to change it often undergoes pressure, to change it takes a lot of effort – so maybe when we think of sheep we can think of a world of potential that just needs a little guidance to be transformed into something wonderful and new.
I do hope you can see some links into Christian faith, but no matter where we are in our faith journeys it’s nice to be reminded that fleece is considered a renewable and biodegradable product, so it’s also OK if things go a bit wrong: there’s always potential to try again.
Staying with the theme of sheep and with words you may be more familiar with, we will now hear our Bible readings for today.
The Divine Shepherd
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
I was quite excited when I saw the lectionary reading for this morning was Psalm 23 – I’m sure it’s likely to be a favourite verse for many people and one that brings a sense of calm or of guidance. I do not have much experience with sheep or shepherds but when I started to write my initial thoughts down for what I might try and bring to this morning my mind went back to the birth of Jesus… for at his birth it’s recorded that the heavenly angels singing the arrival of a new king come to shepherds. Now I am a little familiar with a nativity story or two.
Shepherds were seen as humble and hardworking but also joked about as dirty or at least holding a dirty, even a detestable job. Their job held no rank in society, they were not looked up to, and yet they were the ones told of the good news and the ones who left everything and hurried to embrace it.
Some say the symbolism speaks to the average person, in the average job, or even more the below-average person or the below-average job, and the personal message from the angels to the shepherds saying that a saviour was born to you really does mean the personal message to us today – whatever job, whatever social status, whatever life – Jesus is for us.
If your mind, like mine, got side-tracked from the shepherds of Jesus’ birth to Jesus as a good shepherd, it takes a little more exploring of the role to see how that works.
Firstly, it’s not really the shepherds that are dirty, it’s more the job of looking after the sheep and only a shepherd that loves their sheep would be willing to do whatever dirty tasks are needed. The Bible reading from John speaks to this, that a hired hand wouldn’t care but a good shepherd would risk everything to keep his sheep safe, because under the care of good shepherd, sheep will thrive and flourish and flocks will grow, yet under the care of a bad shepherd, sheep will struggle and endure unnecessary hardship.
So we as the sheep are the ones that cause Jesus as a shepherd to get dirty; it’s us that get lost, making the shepherd come and find us to carry us back, and it’s us as the sheep that need constant care and guidance to keep in the right field. How lucky, then, that Jesus is a good shepherd who cares for his sheep.
Psalm 23 so beautifully speaks to this role of care and trust in God as a shepherd, so I wanted to share a very modern twist:
My lord he cares for me, he makes me stop and take time to be in and to enjoy the moment, he makes me stop – when I don’t think I have any moments to enjoy. So I stop. And find that I am restored and that I am able to carry on.
In big decisions, and in small, I turn to him for guidance and when I keep him in mind I know better just what I should do.
When situations feel bleak and helpless I often feel his presence in just the right moment and I am reminded that God is in all things – sometimes he stills feels so far away yet even when I am bursting with anger or hurt, deep down I know he is there and this brings me comfort.
My lord provides so much for me, so many good things. Yet it’s also him who opens my eyes so I can see them. If I thought of all the good moments and people and things before me – no one picture could hold them. I am blessed, I am full – in fact I am overflowing.
Speaking these words out loud is such a reminder that God is for me, so much so I am certain of good things to come and that his presence will always be with me to help me see the good, or actually God, in things.
Yes, I know my Lord, he cares for me and so I will embrace it each day and for all my days.
Maybe you can hold some of these words in reflection as we sing the modern but traditionally worded version of ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’.
The Lord’s My Shepherd (Townend version). Listen here.
There are lots of comparisons that could be made between the Old and New Testament readings for today. Both share some qualities of simple everyday life for sheep and for the shepherd. Looking out for the sheep, knowing the sheep, taking care of them.
Both share danger – darkest valleys, enemies, wolves – a sense of the unknown, uncertain and unavoidable realities, yet both have the shepherd to deal with it – in one he does not take the danger away but simply is with the sheep, in the other the shepherd lays down his life to protect the sheep.
In both there is relationship: a comfort that the shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know him.
However, the darkest valleys of the psalms are brought into somewhat harsher reality in John with wolves, wolves that other supposed shepherds would run away from, yet the good shepherd would lay down his life to protect his sheep.
We’re still following the early church in most of our stories as we’re only a few weeks after Easter, so although our reading in John comes from the time of Jesus’ ministry before his death and resurrection, knowing what came after we can see that Easter message in Jesus’ words – Jesus, a good shepherd, who cares for his sheep, does it not for money or necessity as a hired help may but out of love, a love so strong that he chooses to lay down his life. A love that listens for ANY other sheep to bring them in to the fold; no one is excluded. When Jesus speaks of laying down his life he makes it clear that it is optional: a hired help would run away but he, knowing the wolves are there, remains a shepherd. It doesn’t seem like a logical choice, for if the shepherd lays down his life then surely the sheep are left unprotected, but he goes on to say he also has the power to take it up again, showing that insight to his death and resurrection that would come later and how he would always be there – a good shepherd, always with his sheep.
Today we are still in somewhat uncertain times: whilst many people are looking forward to the reopening of further shops and services tomorrow, some people are still not able or comfortable enough to enjoy the changes. Many are worried about increased risk and many are frustrated with the restrictions that remain. Some people are still suffering from loss of income, jobs and businesses, and key workers are still just working on. There are most definitely many challenges for the world and therefore for the church in it today, and so I wanted to finish with a final comparison from the readings.
The main comparison you can look out for in both readings is love – an active love that’s looking out for others’ needs, a listening love that’s ready to welcome others in, a practical love that just walks alongside others, a proactive love that helps fulfil others’ needs of rest or food or a little bit of peace, a sacrificial love willing to put the needs of others first.
We may still be restricted in some ways but love is not, and it can take many forms so continue in these hard times to share that love. We may need to be creative in what or how we do it, but we are not alone for we have a shepherd with us always to help guide the way.
Prayers of Intercession by Fiona Lane
Accept the offerings we bring to You in a variety of ways. Grant that they may reach places that we cannot reach, that they may do what we cannot do. Use them to support Your Church and help others in Scotland and far beyond.
For Jesus’ sake.
As we continue to come out of lockdown, we pray that we find strength and compassion to look out for others, acknowledging their struggles and fears. Help us to show Your love by finding ways to help our family, friends and neighbours.
After a long year of Covid, the world is facing new challenges and an unfamiliar landscape. Many people are facing bereavement, isolation, fear, stress, health problems and money worries. Lord, let us use our eyes to see those in need, our ears to hear their concerns, and our hands and hearts to do something to help. Let us not walk by on the other side of the street, but take action and offer assistance; a comforting word and some practical help can show someone You are there. Remind us to share what we have.
We pray for the young people at school and college who have missed out on so much – not only in their education, but in friendship and the opportunity to make their own way in the world. May we offer some reassurance, help and advice so that they can confidently get back to where they were before the pandemic.
For those who were starting their careers, perhaps away from home for the first time, isolated and lonely and without the camaraderie of work colleagues. May we look out for ways to encourage them back into the workplace so that they can reconnect with others and regain their confidence.
We pray for all the parents of young children who have been home-schooling their offspring while attempting to work from home, worried about both the impact of the lack of schooling on their education and the concern about not doing a good job themselves. May we reassure them that their children are more resilient than they know and will bounce back when they re-join their classmates. And help all bosses make allowances for the pressures of home life.
For all the parents of teenagers who may also be worried about ageing parents, where this time has been even more worrying with the fear of Covid, help us not to dismiss their concerns but to listen and reassure as best we can.
For the older members of our community, now fully vaccinated, remind us to invite them for a cup of tea or a walk in the park, so much more enjoyable when shared with a friend or neighbour. Even the smallest kindness will brighten the day for someone living alone.
And for those in care homes, where friends and family are once again allowed to visit, help us to awaken memories of good times long ago.
We pray for all those who have been bereaved during these past twelve months, who have not been able to mourn and remember their loved ones in the way they would have wished. Help us give them the opportunity to talk about their loss, acknowledging the gap that is left behind.
Today, we pray for all the medics who continue to do so much for those infected with Covid, especially in India, the Philippines and Brazil where hospitals have reached capacity and oxygen is in short supply. We pray that other nations share their resources and come to their aid with badly needed medical supplies.
And we pray that all the countries with vaccines share their supplies with their poorer neighbours to enable everyone to live freely without the fear and devastation that Covid brings.
This week as our leaders have been meeting to make promises about emissions to slow the rate of climate change, give them all the courage to stand up in their countries and lead the way to a better future. We pray especially for Greta Thunberg who has used the voice You gave her to persuade others to take action, not turn a blind eye to the devastating impact of pollution and plastics on our environment. She is one small person making a very big difference.
And in our small way, Lord, let each one of us make a difference this week by recycling an extra container, mending a garment, turning off another light or walking rather than taking our car.
We give thanks for Ann, Bob and Mo and all those who continue to keep Wardie going as a warm and welcoming place whether in person or on Zoom. We pray for our Nominating Committee as they continue their search for a new minister – be with them all.
Lord, when we show others Your love and share what we have, we feel warmth in our hearts and know that it is Your will that we help others.
Hymn 124 – Praise to the Lord, The Almighty. Listen here.
Go now with your trust in the good shepherd,
and let us love, not just in words,
but in truth and action.
Believe in the name of Jesus Christ,
and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
And may God be at your side, even in valleys of death.
May Christ Jesus be the cornerstone of your life.
And may the Holy Spirit abide in you
….and tend you with love and mercy all the days of your life.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
(based on Psalm 23, John 10, 1 John 3:16-24)
Copyright © 2003 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net